Life sounds a bit sweeter for Athule after cochlear surgery

Khayelitsha resident Athule Mgodeli, front, is pictured with the hospital theatre team ENT surgeon Dr Marc Merven; ENT registrat Dr Gideon Van Tonder; audiologist Marge van Dyk; ENT surgeon Professor James Loock; audiologist Sarah Lange; ENT surgeon Dr Kathryne Wright; audiologist Desiré le Roux and anesthetist Dr Simone Piovesan after the operation.

Having lived in silence for 17 years, the life of Khayelitsha resident Athule Mgodeli is about to change.

On Friday September 29, the 27-year-old became the 1000th person to receive a cochlear implant at Tygerberg Hospital.

Athule lost his hearing as a result of pneumococcal meningitis at the age of 10. He was diagnosed with a profound sensori-neural hearing loss in both ears which meant that he was permanently deaf.

He was assessed at the Tygerberg Hospital and Stellenbosch University Cochlear Implant Unit, at the age of 10 and again two years later, to determine if a cochlear implant would be able to help him hear better. Patients who obtain minimal benefit from hearing aids are routinely referred for assessment for candidacy for cochlear implantation.

“Being deaf has affected almost every aspect of my life. When I was at school, I liked to read books a lot which was how I coped with the challenges of being deaf,” said Athule.

“Sometimes people do not understand when I ask them to speak slower so I can be able to read their lips. The cochlear implant will change my life for the better. As a deaf person, it is difficult to find work and I am hoping that this implant will offer me new, positive opportunities.”

His mother, Nomza Mgodeli, said added: “In 2005, Athule was fitted with the most powerful hearing aids, but had limited benefit from them and was still unable to hear. Athule had to adjust from functioning as a normal hearing child to suddenly being in complete silence. He had to learn to lip-read and use other cues from his environment to make sense of his surroundings.”

The highly motivated Athule matriculated in 2015 purely through lip-reading and obtained a certificate in project management through the National Institute for the Deaf in 2016, and additional six certificates in computer and business management from other colleges. He graduated in 2022 with a qualification in digital marketing. He is currently applying for several jobs and hoping for a favourable outcome.

Chief audiologist at Tygerberg Hospital, Marge Van Dyk, said Athule had been referred to the Tygerberg Hospital and Stellenbosch University Cochlear Implant Unit in May 2023.

“After in-depth assessment by a multi-disciplinary team of health care professionals, he was found to be a suitable candidate for a cochlear implant in his right ear. Due to bony formation in his hearing organs (cochleae) caused by his meningitis, his surgery was complex, but we remained hopeful that a cochlear implant gave him a chance to hear again.”

CEO of Tygerberg, Dr Matodzi Mukosi, said Athule’s surgery represents a huge milestone for the hospital.

“This is an exciting time for the whole hospital, celebrating World Death Awareness Month at the same time as it is implanting its 1000th cochlear implant patient.

“Our hospital has an excellent ear, nose and throat (ENT) and audiology department with a skilled team of ENT specialists and audiologists where hearing loss is diagnosed and managed for adults and children. We are immensely proud of the excellent work done by the team of surgeons, audiologists, nurses and all other cadres of staff involved in cochlea implants.”

The hospital is one of the largest tertiary health facilities in the country to provide cochlear implants. The service started in 1986 and around 40 procedures are carried out each year by the hospital’s Cochlear Implant Unit bringing about an improved quality of life to many. Over the years, these electronic devices have improved hearing for individuals with moderate, profound or severe hearing loss.